Yellowstone Fishing Regulations & Permits
Yellowstone National Park Fishing Regulations

Yellowstone National Park Fishing Regulations & Fees

A trip to Yellowstone National Park wouldn't be complete without wetting a line on one of the many blue-ribbon trout streams located throughout the park. These are untouched rivers filled with beautiful native cutthroat's, grayling and mountain whitefish and there are definitely more fish than fishermen roaming these rivers. Nonnative species including, browns, rainbows, brookies and lake trout are also present.

Before you hit the lakes and rivers you'll need to purchase a Yellowstone fishing license. A park fishing licenses can be purchased from the many fly fishing shops surrounding the park as well as from the Park Service. You can buy a 3-day, 7-day or annual fishing license depending on your needs for $18, $25 and $40 respectively. A park license is not the same as a Wyoming state fishing license. However, anglers do not need to carry a Wyoming state fishing license to fish inside Yellowstone National Park.

If you need help choosing the right flies for the right location or you want the latest river and hatch information, check in with one of these knowledgable Yellowstone fly fishing outfitters before you begin your trip.



General Fishing Regulations

• Fishing season opens Memorial Day weekend and ends the first Sunday in November.
• Hours: Each day from sunrise to sunset.
• Permit pricing: 3-day is $18.00, 7-day is $25.00, annual permit is $40.00.
• Individuals 16 years and older must posses a valid park fishing license.
• One rod and one line per person.
• All boats, including float tubes must purchase a boating permit.
• All bait must be artificial. No live bait such as worms, minnows or fish eggs.
• All hooks must be barbless. Hooks with barbs must be pinched flat.
• Lead fishing tackle is prohibited (eg. lead split-shot and lead ribbon).
• Fishing is not allowed from bridges or boat docks.
• Dispose of fish entrails in fast moving waters and 100 feet from backcountry campsites.
• The Madison, Firehole and the Gibbon rivers are fly fishing only.
• All native species (see list below) are catch and release only.

Limits on Size and Possession
• See individual fish species below for details.
• All lake trout taken from Yellowstone Lake MUST be killed.

Areas Permanently Closed to Fishing
• Fishing Bridge one mile downstream and one-quarter mile upstream
• Alum Creek (Hayden Valley)
• Elk Antler (Hayden Valley)
• Pelican Creek (Pelican Valley)
• 100 yards in either direction of LeHardys Rapids along the Yellowstone River
• Firehole River near Old Faithful and Midway Geyser Basin
• The Madison River 250 yards upstream from Seven Mile Bridge
• Bridge Bay Marina, Harbor & Grant Village Marinas and their channels to the lake
• Shoreline near West Thumb Geyser Basin

Other important dates
• Heart Lake opens July 1st
• Trout, Shrimp and Buck Lakes open June 15th
• Yellowstone Lake opens June 15th
• Agate and Cottonwood Creeks along the Yellowstone open July 15th
• Clear and Cub Creeks open August 11th
• Sylvan and Eleanor Lakes open July 15th. Boats and float tubes prohibited
• Streams entering Yellowstone Lake open July 15th



Yellowstone Native Fish Species

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout
Possession & Limits: Catch and release only!

The distinctive red slashes found on the lower jaws of this fish are the quickest and easiest way to identify this species of trout. Medium to large black spots that become increasingly dense towards the tail of the fish are another distinguishing characteristic that help to separate it from other subspecies of cutthroat trout. They can be found in many streams and rivers throughout the park and are great fun to catch on a lightweight fly rod. In some locations along the Yellowstone River (Tower area) these fish are pretty plump, but generally they average between 12 and 18 inches. Look for these fish in eddies, near log piles, riffles, behind large boulders, and in transition areas between fast and slow water.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout are considered a threatened species and should be fished as catch and release only.


Arctic Grayling

Arctic Grayling
Possession & Limits: Catch and release only!

The large dorsal fin and large scales on the arctic grayling make it a very unique looking member of the Salmonidae family. Many fluvial or the stream-dwelling species are a rarity within the park and and may occasionally be caught in the Gibbon, Madison, Firehole and Gallatin Rivers. Most viable populations of arctic grayling still found within the park are actually ad-fluvial or lake-dwelling species and your best bet is to hike to either Grebe Lake or Cascade Lake if your interested in fishing for this species. The graylings here tend to be smaller in size than other species and the fish are generally between 8 and 12 inches.

Arctic grayling are considered a threatened species and should be fished as catch and release only.


Mountain Whitefish

Mountain Whitefish
Possession & Limits: Catch and release only!

Often confused with the white sucker fish (Catostomus commersonii) because of its small overhanging mouth and round body, the mountain whitefish can be found in the Snake and Lewis Rivers (south central) as well as the Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone River drainages to the north and west. Mountain whitefish are often found in the same waters as rainbow and brown trout and are considered by many anglers to be a "trash-fish" but this is an unfortunate misconception. They contribute to the overall health of the waters they inhabit and are an important food source for other trout, eagles, osprey and otters.

Mountain whitefish are catch and release only.





Yellowstone Nonnative Fish Species

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout
Possession & Limits: There is no possession limit on nonnative fish caught in the park with the following exceptions; waters above Lewis Falls, Lewis Lake, Lewis Channel and Shoshone Lake and its tributaries. Possession limit of five nonnative fish in combination, only one of which can be a brown trout. Firehole River, Madison River, lower Gibbon River (below Gibbon Falls), possession of five brook trout is allowed. Catch and release all rainbow and brown trout. Rainbow trout caught in the Lamar River drainage must be harvested in order to protect native cutthroat trout in the headwater reaches of the drainage. This includes Slough Creek and Soda Butte Creek.

Rainbow trout can be found in many rivers throughout the park but do not exist in Yellowstone Lake, the Snake River or the Yellowstone River above the Upper Falls.


Brook Trout

Brook Trout
Possession & Limits: There is no possession limit on nonnative fish caught in the park with the following exceptions; waters above Lewis Falls, Lewis Lake, Lewis Channel and Shoshone Lake and its tributaries. Possession limit of five nonnative fish in combination, only one of which can be a brown trout. Firehole River, Madison River, lower Gibbon River (below Gibbon Falls), possession of five brook trout is allowed. Catch and release all rainbow and brown trout. Brook trout caught in the Lamar River drainage must be harvested in order to protect native cutthroat trout. This includes Slough Creek and Soda Butte Creek.

Brook trout are also quite prevalent but do not exist in Yellowstone Lake, the Yellowstone River above the Upper Falls or the Gallatin River.


Brown Trout

Brown Trout
Possession & Limits: There is no possession limit on nonnative fish caught in the park with the following exceptions; waters above Lewis Falls, Lewis Lake, Lewis Channel and Shoshone Lake and its tributaries. Possession limit of five nonnative fish in combination, only one of which can be a brown trout. Firehole River, Madison River, lower Gibbon River (below Gibbon Falls), possession of five brook trout is allowed. Catch and release all rainbow and brown trout.

Brown trout can be found in the following rivers within the park; Gallatin, Gibbon, Gardner, Firehole, Snake, Yellowstone, Madison and the Lewis. They are nonexistent in Yellowstone Lake, the Bechler River or the Falls River.


Lake Trout

Lake Trout
Possession & Limits: In Yellowstone Lake and its tributaries as well as the Yellowstone River there is no limit. All lake trout caught in Yellowstone Lake must be killed. There is no possession limit on nonnative fish caught in the park with the following exceptions; waters above Lewis Falls, Lewis Lake, Lewis Channel and Shoshone Lake and its tributaries. Possession limit of five nonnative fish in combination, only one of which can be a brown trout.

Lake trout are an invasive species that are present in Shoshone, Lewis, Yellowstone and Heart lakes. Unfortunately their introduction to these Yellowstone fisheries has greatly impacted the native cutthroat population within the park's larger bodies of water. This has lead to a significant eradication program within the park designed to eliminate this non-native fish in the hopes of saving another. By comparison lake trout are significantly larger than the native species of cutthroat trout and may consume as many as 50 cutthroats in a year.

In an ongoing effort to protect the native cutthroat populations the park service requires that all lake trout be destroyed if caught in Yellowstone Lake. If you're fishing in the backcountry you must dispose of all fish entrails in fast moving or deep water. Do not leave fish carcasses along beaches or river banks because they will attract bears and other wildlife. If you should catch a lake trout the best method for disposal is to puncture the air bladder which lies behind the head and below the dorsal fin. After performing this procedure simply drop the trout back into the lake. If fishing from a shoreline consider weighting the fish and throwing it back into deeper water.

For a complete list of park fishing rules and regulations contact the Visitor Services Office at: (307) 344-2107, or visit the NPS Website.



Recommended Fishing

Here is a basic overview of the best and most productive rivers/lakes to wet a line. Many of these waters are easily accessible from most of the parks main roads but there are a handful that can be fished a good distance from road and if you're backpacking you'll probably have these places all to yourself.

Northeast Section - Near Cooke City
Lamar River - Popular. Spectacular scenery. Easy access.
Soda Butte Creek - Mountain stream to the confluence with the Lamar.
Slough Creek - Remote/popular. Challenging with very slow moving water.
Yellowstone River - A big and beautiful river full of fish.

Northwest Section - Near West Yellowstone/Madison Junction/Old Faithful
Gallatin River - Along route 191. Freestone with beautiful meadows.
Madison River - Slow moving near Madison Jct. Some riffles to Seven Mile Bridge.
Firehole River - Mixed water. Slow moving, deep pools, some riffles.
Gibbon River - Meadows, slow and deep at Elk Park. Riffles, to Madison Jct.
Gardner River - Below Mammoth/Tower Bridge, riffles, boulders, fun/fast moving.

Southwest Section - Near Grant Village/West Thumb
Shoshone Lake - Remote.
Bechler River - Remote. Big meadows. Stealth fishing.
Falls River - Well off the beaten path.

Southeast Section - Near Grant Village/West Thumb/Fishing Bridge
Yellowstone River/Thorofare Area - Very remote. A true wilderness experience.
Yellowstone Lake - Easy access. Lots of remote shoreline to fish.
Snake River - Remote. Best if your backpacking the South Boundary Trail.
Lewis River - Below Lewis Lake. Meandering, spring creek waters to Lewis Canyon.
Lewis Lake - Easy access from boat launch. Bring mosquito repellent in the spring.
Heart Lake - Remote. The largest Lake Trout in YNP was caught at Heart Lake.

Fishing on Lewis Lake, Yellowstone National Park





Yellowstone Fly Fishing Outfitters



Blue Ribbon Flies - West Yellowstone, MT
Blue Ribbon Flies has lots of great articles and videos available online as well as a 'Fly of the Month' club. I know this doesn't sound very appealing but if you're a fly fisherman you get the drift.

Nearby rivers accessible from West Yellowstone: the Madison, Firehole, Gibbon and the Henry's Fork in Idaho.

Tel: (406) 646-7642
305 Canyon Street, West Yellowstone, MT 59758 - Directions
Email: brf@blueribbonflies.com
Visit their website



Bud Lilly's Trout Shop - West Yellowstone, MT
A full-service fly shop located in West Yellowstone Bud Lilly's offers guided trips inside the park and they carry a complete selection of clothing and fly fishing gear for the beginner or the consummate fly fishing connoisseur.

Nearby rivers accessible from West Yellowstone: the Madison, Firehole, Gibbon and the Henry's Fork in Idaho.

Tel: (800) 854-9559
39 Madison Avenue West Yellowstone, MT 59758 - Directions
Email: info@budlillys.com
Visit their website



Parks' Fly Shop - Gardiner, MT
Park's Fly Shop focuses on the local waters in and around the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park and they offer guided/walking trips to some of the best locations inside the park.

Nearby rivers accessible from this location: the Yellowstone, Gardiner, Lamar and Slough Creek.

Tel: (406) 848-7314
202 South 2nd Street, Gardiner, MT 59030 - Directions
Email: richard@parksflyshop.com
Visit their website









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